Justifying Too Much
Justifying Too Much
Utilitarianism as a Moral Theory
In this chapter, I analyze the use and abuse of utilitarianism in the torture debate, arguing that the latter might turn out to be utilitarianism's nemesis. For what the debate lays bare is that, if we are to take utilitarianism seriously, then we must be prepared to torture the alleged terrorist's child, or indeed anyone at all, to prevent the so-called imminent catastrophe. Furthermore, if that conclusion is unpalatable on rule-utilitarian grounds—in terms of the institutional and long-term consequences of such a practice—then those same sorts of consideration rule out torturing the alleged terrorist themselves. That this is systematically obscured by those who would purport to justify interrogational torture by their being highly selective about the consequences they consider, and/or by arbitrarily “modifying” the scope of utilitarianism when it generates inconvenient conclusions, again suggests that utilitarianism may be fundamentally flawed; and that its use to defend interrogational torture shows this. The argument is in four sections: a refutation of the alleged necessity of interrogational torture in “ticking bomb” cases; an analysis of utilitarian proponents' of interrogational torture properly to understand that their utilitarianism cannot accommodate non-utilitarian limits when inconvenient; third, their failure to acknowledge the implications of that for the permissibility of torturing known innocents to force others to divulge information; and, fourth, how these considerations come together to suggest that utilitarianism might not be a moral theory at all.
Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.